* BHP says seeking ways to improve economics of Australian project
* Yeelirrie is Australia’s second biggest uranium deposit
* Japan nuclear disaster raised doubts over need for more uranium (Adds details)
By James Regan
SYDNEY, June 20 (Reuters) - BHP Billiton sought to quell speculation over the future of its giant Yeelirrie uranium project in Australia on Monday, saying deferral of a key review had not derailed its commitment to the project.
BHP Billiton last month postponed indefinitely an environmental review and management programme for the project until it was deemed to meet internal standards, fueling concerns BHP Billiton was losing interest amid uncertainty over future uranium demand.
“BHP Billiton remains committed to developing the Yeelirrie deposit and is continuing to progress the project with a focus on developments in technologies to improve the project’s environmental and economic outcomes,” the company said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
The deposit in Western Australia state is the country’s second-biggest uranium deposit after Rio Tinto’s mothballed Jabiluka lode in the Northern Territory.
BHP wants to mine 90,000 tonnes of uranium from Yeelirrie over a span of 30 years but has yet to break any ground.
BHP also owns the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia state, where it is planning a massive expansion to 19,000 tonnes a year from 4,000 tonnes now, but cannot say when that will proceed or how much it will cost.
Australia, with no nuclear power plants of its own, is one of the world’s top exporters of uranium, along with Kazakhstan and Canada.
But plans for nuclear reactors have been put on hold worldwide in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis, blurring the short term outlook for uranium. (Editing by Balazs Koranyi)